Raymond Suttner, Remembering Chris Hani

I have hesitated to write about Chris Hani, partly because I did not know Comrade Chris all that well, meeting him for the first time in 1990. But I want to convey a few things that I learnt. The first is that Chris cared about people and this one hears from all the MK soldiers, that he was concerned about every one of them, spending evenings with them, remembering their names even after fleeting meetings. During these evening discussions, Dipuo Mvelase, who had been a camp commander, speaks of Hani introducing her to feminism. But they would talk about everything, and many of the cadres missed their mothers and fathers and they speak of being able to speak to him about things that they would sometimes not have discussed with their ‘mum.’

Chris did not want soldiers to go into battle or infiltrate the country when emotionally unprepared. He would carefully probe whether a soldier was ready to go inside, whether s/he had any unfinished business that could make the person unprepared for what lay ahead. He was concerned not to create martyrs, and did not want anyone to die unnecessarily.

What interested me in these accounts is that Chris Hani went beyond finding out if a person had read Marx or Lenin and probed their psychological readiness. He went beyond their skills as soldiers and tried to understand them as human beings.

Now that seems to have disappeared. The ANC and SACP of today have become dehumanised. The poorest of the poor has become a phrase to refer to people with whom there is no longer any connection. In fact it is this base constituency who have been mowed down by police and whose resources have been squandered, while condemned to live in squalor.

There is no sense of anyone caring about anyone else, even amongst the leaders themselves. Chris cared about his comrades, from the highest to the lowest. He wanted to speak to everyone and had a special connection with the workers and rural people, not from reading books (though he was widely read), but from growing up in the rural areas and remembering the conditions of poverty that brought about disease and early death.

The intellectual role of Chris Hani was different from other ideologues, because he could communicate to rural people or those lacking formal education, without oversimplifying or removing complexity. He did not lose any of the rigour of a carefully developed strategy, but he had a way of putting it across that enabled every person who was interested to own the ideas.

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